Dust Bowl Road Trip: The Museum Issue

Sometimes, people hear or read the word “museum” and stop listening or reading, but preserving the stories of the past is important. Even if we didn’t have a direct relative who lived through this dire part of history, it is part of the American story; the human story.

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Weighing in at 750 pounds, standing 13 feet tall, the replica of the Tin Woodman from the Wizard of Oz greets visitors to the Cimarron Heritage Center.

There are three museums that we wanted to visit on our Dust Bowl road trip. These museums were not just telling a story about something that happened 90 years ago; these museums tell a story connected to all of us. We made it to all of them, barely. Flat tires in the middle of nowhere tend to be a schedule buster.

If you’re curious as to why we did the Dust Bowl road trip, read this. However, we weren’t just interested in the story of the Dust Bowl. We wanted to see what this area was like, and we wanted to meet the people who live there today.

Each of these museums were visit by donation. Please leave one.

We started in Boise City, Oklahoma, where we visited the Cimarron Heritage Center. The director is originally from Campo, Colorado, just north of Boise City. She is a wealth of information on the Dust Bowl. She and the museum staff lady gave us the name of the best tire shop in town, J & K Tire. Ryan called them while I chatted with the women.

Turns out, the area is in a 12-year drought. They had received a little rain several nights prior and the grass on the sides of the road was turning minty green, but it’s dry here and mostly brown.

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Our day had already been turned upside down by the flat tire fiasco and we were short on time. However, we’d been told this was an excellent museum and we had to stop.

Boise City, Oklahoma, isn’t only one of the central cities of “The Worst Hard Times,” the book that inspired this road trip, it has another claim to fame. It was bombed during World War II, by friendlies. It was an accident and no one was hurt, but those same men went on to be acclaimed airmen. It’s a story about making a huge mistake but getting up, dusting off, and going on to do great things. You’ll learn all about it at the Cimarron Heritage Center.

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We ran through the main building because our time was short. We wanted to see the Dust Bowl house and I wanted to see the dugout. The Dust Bowl House is absolutely worth seeing, but the dugout is something I’d been curious about since learning about them.

With bad eyes and having lived in the Pacific Northwest for the first 18 years of my life, windows are incredibly important to me. Dugouts are located underground and don’t have windows. And people lived in them. Sometimes for years.

I highly recommend stopping at Cimarron Heritage Center. There is a dinosaur exhibit there that appeals to kids (and the kid in Ryan).

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Have I mentioned there are dinosaur tracks around these parts? More on that later.

Just before closing, we managed to get to the XIT Museum in Dalhart, Texas, about 45 minutes south of Boise City.

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From 1885 to 1912, the XIT Ranch operated as the largest ranch in the United States. It incorporated 10 counties in Texas and employed a  lot of cowboys. It’s what XI10 in Texas restaurant is named after (mentioned in post three about the Dust Bowl road trip). This Dalhart museum is mostly about that ranch and cowboys in general.

However, there is a well-done exhibit about the Dust Bowl. After all, Dalhart is mentioned often in Dust Bowl stories.

I haven’t gotten around to writing about New Mexico in my Dust Bowl Road Trip posts, but I will. Their museum is excellent. And while it’s not specifically about the Dust Bowl per se, the characters talked about in this museum are definitely people and families who appear in “The Worst Hard Times.”

The Herzstein Memorial Museum in Clayton is a highly recommended stop. It tells the story of the Wild West because much of it happened right here in Clayton and the surrounding area. It’s located about 10 minutes from Texas.

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Housed in an old church, the museum has a type of charm that only comes with being in an Episcopal Church built in 1919. Also, 99 percent of the items here are not replicas. A lot came from Herzstein’s house in Clayton. They were a family of merchants that had stores in Dalhart and Clayton. They also collected a lot of things and those items are here.

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The museum also has an extensive exhibit on Black Jack Ketchum, a train robber executed by hanging in Clayton, New Mexico. Black Jack’s head came off his body during the hanging. Oops! People had bought tickets to the execution. They got quite a show.

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He’s been reburied three times and now is in the middle of Clayton Cemetery. We went there to see it and saw two jackrabbits too. A first for us. Jackrabbits are huge and fast. They got away before I could snap a photo.

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Lastly, if you want to see dinosaur tracks, go on a Dust Bowl road trip. We found them near Black Mesa in Oklahoma, and again at Clayton Lake State Park & Dinosaur Trackways. There are actually a lot of them at the state park in New Mexico. Ryan was delighted.

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The birding at this state park is awesome too. We saw a roadrunner in the parking lot (and it didn’t go beep beep).

1 Comment

  1. What an amazing, historical road trip! I had no idea there were any friendly, accidental bombings on U.S. soil. I need to study the Dust Bowl more closely since I have ancestors on both sides of my family who were impacted by it.


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